It’s difficult to tear yourself away from Keralan classics, such as the tea plantations of Munnar and the backwaters hub of Alleppey. However, head north from Cochin and you’re likely to find all the natural beauty, cultural diversity and genuine hospitality Kerala is famed for, but with a more raw, untouched feel. Relax into traditional village life in Palakkad, spot wild elephants at off-the-radar Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary, cruise the Malabar backwaters with rarely another houseboat in sight, and relax on stunning Neeleshwar beach. The distance you’ll need to travel is undoubtedly greater, but perhaps so are the rewards.
Obviously there's a lot more, this is just to get you started...
A cooking class with Faiza - one of your hosts at cliff-top homestay Ayisha Manzil, and renowned Keralan chef - will let you into a few culinary secrets. Visit a market to purchase fresh, local ingredients, ask questions about some of the more mysterious items on offer, and learn the spice combinations that define authentic Keralan cuisine. Head home to rustle up several dishes, with Faiza on hand to ensure you get the techniques spot on. The cooking classes, as with the entire Ayisha Manzil experience, feel like spending time with an old friend. After enjoying the fruits of your labour for lunch, a post-lunch doze may be in order - poolside is an ideal spot.
An increasing issue for travellers around the world is what to do when areas become victims of their own success, attracting more visitors that they can comfortably handle. To some extent, this is beginning to happen to the better-known backwater areas around Alleppey. Further regulation and measures to protect and preserve these environments are one answer, and are certainly underway. Another is to look towards nearby places that are similar but distinct, and help spread out the visitor numbers. In Kerala, we love Malabar’s Tejaswini River. It’s famous for its scenic waterscapes, but still has relatively few houseboats drifting about. Thus uninterrupted, it’s easier to make sense of the pull of the waterways and their vital importance at the centre of local life.
As one of the world’s oldest holistic or ‘whole-body’ healing systems, the principles and practices of Ayurveda have developed in India over thousands of years. Based on the belief that health and wellness depend on the delicate balance between mind, body and spirit, it emphasises the importance of lifestyle practices in both maintaining good health and treating illness - think diet, massage, meditation and yoga. For those looking to learn more about this age-old but increasingly popular practice, these less-visited parts of Kerala are an ideal location for further exploration. Some hotels even have an Ayurvedic doctor on site, and Kerala seems designed to be the perfect spot for contemplation and relaxation.
Take your best shot at spotting wildlife with an itinerary that includes not one but three different parks, all located in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. This allows you to explore some surprisingly diverse scenery, see myriad bird and animal species, and hugely increase your chances of spotting one of these elusive big cats.